How Do You Translate ‘Filled with the Holy Spirit’? by JOST ZETZSCHE for Christianity Today
Pentecost let everyone hear the gospel in their first language. Bible translators work to give others that intimate experience too.
Pentecost reveals a God who understands that language is more than communication.
Just days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit arrives, and with him, the apostles’ ability to speak in other languages. Diasporic visitors from as far away as today’s Iraq, Libya, and Italy suddenly can hear the gospel in their mother tongues. Hearing about Jesus in this intimate way surprises and amazes the listeners in Jerusalem and viscerally reinforces the personal nature of Jesus’ mission. (The fact that these visitors likely understood Jerusalem’s prevailing languages of Greek or Aramaic further underscores this.)
Yet the church was slow to adopt this message of Pentecost when it came to translating Scripture. Yes, they translated the Bible, but predominantly into Latin, Koine Greek, Ge’ez, Coptic, or Church Slavonic—languages that, over time, became the domain of just a few.
This first changed during the Reformation, and then again with the advent of Bible societies in the 19th century and with translation organizations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators in the 20th century. Today, more than 3,500 languages have at least a portion of the Bible translated into their language (a huge jump from about 2,000 languages just 20 years ago!).
The explosion of modern Bible translations amplifies the ongoing story of Pentecost, a grace that becomes most apparent when we’re able to unearth the riches of these translations and share their treasures beyond their original target audiences.
A couple of those gems can be found in Acts 2:4, the verse that reports on the lifting of that language barrier: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they began to speak in other languages which the Holy Spirit made them able to speak” (NLV).